Blog 8 - Mental Health & Illness

Interestingly, when checking the definitions of “health and illness” some dictionaries only refer to body whilst others refer to both body and mind.

Cambridge Dictionary definition of  “Health” - the condition of the body and the degree to which it is free from illness, or the state of being .

Definition of “illness” - refers to both body and mind - a disease of the body or mind

Collins Dictionary –“A person's health is the condition of their body and the extent to which it is free from illness or is able to resist illness”. – “the general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigour”

I write this not as a Health Professional but as an employer and manager of people and perhaps the dictionary definitions are also how many people still focus on the term “mental illness” rather than the more positive and proactive “mental health”.  Recent weeks have brought extensive media coverage about the cost to businesses and the NHS is also adversely affected by mental health/illness but the cost to those affected cannot be measured in financial or efficiency terms so what can all of us do to help

Work is a huge part of our lives so it’s vital that while we’re working, we’re happy and healthy. Even today when we think about a phrase that contains ‘mental health’, there is a tendency to focus on problems or illness; symptoms like low mood or mood swings and conditions such as depression, anxiety, or perhaps schizophrenia but everyone has mental health. You and your colleagues will have times when your mental health is good and times when it is less good, just as with physical health. Anyone who is a manager of people has a really crucial role in supporting employee wellbeing and promoting good mental health in the workplace.

Everyone’s experience of mental health is different and can change at different times. As a manager, it’s important to really know your team and understand what they need and when. Understanding some of the signs of poor mental health doesn’t mean you should make assumptions about what mental health problems your employees may have. Instead, use them as a way of noticing when you should check in and start a conversation about how your employee is coping right now. Some ideas of early signs might be:

 • poor concentration

• being easily distracted

• worrying more

• finding it hard to make decisions

 • low mood

 • feeling overwhelmed by things

 • tiredness and lack of energy

• talking less and avoiding social activities

 • finding it difficult to control emotions

 • drinking more

• irritability and short temper

 • aggression


Where would you start?  You could improve working practices, change a culture, and so encourage your team to speak openly, and reassure them you will offer support.


 • Work can cause mental health problems or make them worse. Issues like bullying, uncertainty, lack of control and a demanding role are all linked to the development of common mental health problems.

• Employees with good mental wellbeing are likely to be more creative, loyal and productive.

 • Stigma is reduced when people can talk openly about mental health. This leads to more understanding and a greater likelihood people will seek support earlier which helps you as a manager.

• It’s much easier to support employees at an earlier stage than wait until they reach crisis point.

 • Effectively supporting employees with mental health problems means you can employ, retain and get the best from them, and it’s good for business. If employees aren’t given the right support, the costs can mount up.

• Mental health problems are the leading cause of long-term sickness absence.

 • Increased absence and reduced productivity can see workloads grow for other colleagues, which can exacerbate some of the root causes of poor mental health.

As a manager, your focus is on supporting your team in the workplace but remember your own wellbeing is just as important. You have a duty to yourself to look after your own mental health at work but must recognise that taking care of your mental health doesn’t always mean you can avoid problems entirely but it’s still important we treat our mental health the same as our physical health - with care.  You should feel confident about dealing with disclosure and managing and supporting an employee with mental health problems so think about talking to your own manager about your training needs and familiarise yourself with policies your organisation has relating to mental health and wellbeing which may include sickness absence and health and safety. Show your team that their wellbeing matters to you; encourage them to work sensible hours, take lunch breaks and attend wellbeing initiatives in the organisation. Looking after their mental health is just as important as their physical health.

This will lead to a more productive team in the long term. Make sure you’re available, prioritise regular one-to-ones and catch ups with your team and use this time to check how they are and talk through any difficulties at home or work. Knowing your team’s ‘normal’ outlook and activities will give you a frame of reference to spot changes in these early. This will make conversations easier if problems do arise.

Additionally, if you have a culture where employees can speak about their home lives, and know they are being listened to and heard, that can be very helpful.